Harmonizing Work with Family

Overwork in paid employment is another encroachment that likewise robs together time from families. Data collected by the Families and Work Institute in 2005 noted that one in three American employees reported being chronically overworked. Fifty-four percent of American employees said they have felt overwhelmed at some time in the past month by how much work they had to complete. Other data indicated that more than one-third of employees (36 percent) had not and were not planning to take their full vacation. Most employees take short vacations, with 37 percent taking fewer than seven days. Only 14 percent of employees take vacations of two weeks or more.

Sometimes, the tyranny of work life robs us of personal and family time, energy, and makes us so psychologically absorbed that we have difficulty enjoying family and personal time even when we do get it. Time with family is often the first area of compromise since evidence of our neglect isn’t always immediately apparent, but a neglected project is. At the same time, unsettled affairs at home may keep us from being fully committed and focused while we are at work.

E. Jeffrey Hill, a work and family life scholar at Brigham Young University, compares balancing work and family life to creating harmony within an orchestra. When all the instruments are played at the proper tone and volume, the result is beautiful music. When out of balance, the result can be pretty dissonant. He suggests the following helpful ideas.

Create energy. Don’t let work take all your energy, leaving none for your family. At the end of the day, do something at work that energizes you. For example, try doing at least some of the work activities that energize you the most just before you leave work. Then you will carry more energy into your family. In addition, try using your commute time to renew yourself by listening to energizing music or books on tape.

Seize quality time. Watch carefully for times when your family seems to naturally interact. One father found that his children seemed most eager to talk when they came home from school, and he arranged his work schedule to be home at that time some days. Others find that after children have completed homework or their household chores, they’re receptive to taking a break with one or both parents. Bedtime is also a great time to talk to children. Since most children resist going to bed, they’ll keep talking with you so they can stay up longer.

Do two things at once. Take your children to work with you on occasion. While you work, have them sort letters or stack papers. You’ll find precious minutes of interaction in this setting. Many parents enjoy taking children on errands with them or taking a son or daughter to lunch. Use your frequent flier miles to take an older child with you on a business trip.

Know when to focus on one thing. When you come home, leave work at work. Allow your family to be your focus. When you go on vacation, don’t take work with you. Leave your laptop, Palm Pilot, and pager at home.

Be flexible in when and where you work. The more flexibility and control you have in your work, the better you’ll be able to balance work and family life. Telecommuting, for example, can save an hour or even two hours a day and give you a break from the stress of traffic. A flexible work schedule allows you to attend your child’s school performance. In many cases, flexibility also helps employees be more focused, energized, and productive.

Get more and better sleep. If you’re well rested, you’ll be able to accomplish more at work and you’ll be more relaxed with your family. One father found himself working too late into the night on work projects, then wrestling with the project during his sleep and awaking unrefreshed. He started taking a break from work projects to tuck his children into bed and found the routine so peaceful that he often went to bed shortly after his children and woke up more rested. He, his family, and his work life were all better off.

Simplify your life. If you accumulate fewer possessions and participate in fewer activities, you’ll find your life easier to balance. Material things cost time and money, so choose now to buy less. Stay out of debt. If you live within your means and spend less than you earn, you’ll be more at peace and more able to enjoy family life.

More suggestions:

Place pictures of your family in your workspace, whether it’s on your desk, on the dashboard of your truck, or on a cubicle wall.

During breaks, call to talk to your spouse and children.

When chatting with co-workers, talk about your family instead of about co-workers, office politics, or sports.

Help your spouse take care of the children. Take a turn waking up with the baby, even though you might be less rested for your work day. Spend time individually with each child.

Find a family that you think balances work and family well and talk to them about how they do it.

If you’re out of town on a business trip, stay in close touch with your family. Call and talk to everyone at once on the speaker phone. Talk to a different child individually each night you’re gone. Have your children fax homework and pictures to your hotel. Send postcards.

When your work is through, stop. Don’t work more than you need to.

Don’t be a perfectionist. It’s okay if the house goes longer than you think it should without cleaning or the stove doesn’t get cleaned once a week. Save your energy for family activities.

Share household jobs with your spouse and children. Men who help out with household tasks stay in touch with the down-to-earth realities of what it takes to make a family work, and they also help their wives balance work and family.

Take care of your physical health so you can better deal with emotional and physical stresses better.

Work to live, don’t live to work.

Eat dinner together. Family dinnertime is known to be good for children, and now research shows the family dinner hour can recharge employees and wipe away the strain of working long hours. Brigham Young University family scientist Jenet Jacob and colleagues analyzed data from 1,580 IBM employees who are parents. Their study, which appears in the June 2008 issue of Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal, found that employees who made it home for dinner were more likely to see their workplace as a healthy environment, which is important to their job retention and productivity.

For Further Reading:

Take Back Your Time
edited by John de Graf

Putting Family First
by William J. Doherty and Barbara Z. Carlson

The Intentional Family: Simple Rituals to Strengthen Family Ties
by William J. Doherty

Additional Websites

The Simple Living Network

Take Back Your Time

Putting Family First

Families and Work Institute